At least 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists have been given access to the COP28 summit currently taking place in Dubai, according to a new report. This is an unprecedented attendance of people linked to the oil, gas and coal sector at a crucial climate talk, which is supposed to move forward with climate action. Instead, it’s opening the door to polluters.
In a year of record-breaking global temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions, there has been an explosion of fossil fuel lobbyists attending the UN climate negotiations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), almost four times as many as had access last year. This spike coincides with COP28 at which fossil fuels and their phase-out are a focal point.
The UAE is a major fossil fuel producer and exporter, and despite that it was chosen to host this year’s climate summit — but it gets worse. COP28’s president is Sultan Al Jaber, the CEO of state oil giant Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, one of the world’s 12 largest oil companies. He has even tried to make oil deals during the summit.
The new report, written by the Kick Big Polluters Out (KBPO) coalition, found that the number of fossil fuel industry lobbyists with access to COP28 is much higher than the number of people in each delegation from almost every country. The fossil fuel lobbyists are only outnumbered by the 3,081 people contributed by Brazil and the 4,409 participants from the UAE.
“The poisonous presence of the Big Polluters has bogged us down for years, preventing us from moving forward on the pathways needed to keep fossil fuels in the ground. They are the reason why COP28 is clouded in a fog of climate denial, not climate reality,” Alexia Leclercq, co-founder of Start Empowerment, an NGO, said in a news release.
A polluted environment
The Kick Big Polluters Out coalition analyzed the provisional list of COP28 participants and found fossil fuel lobbyists received more COP28 passes than all the delegates from the ten most climate-vulnerable nations combined (1509). This underlines how the industry’s presence dwarfs that of those on the frontlines of the crisis, they argued.
A large number of fossil fuel lobbyists were given access to the COP as part of a trade association. Nine of the ten largest such groups came from the Global North. The largest was the Geneva-based International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), which brought 116 people, including representatives of Shell, Total Energies and Equinor.
More than seven times as many fossil fuel lobbyists have also been allowed into COP28 as official indigenous representatives (316), the report found. France brought fossil fuel giants such as TotalEnergies and EDF as part of its national delegation, Italy brought a team of representatives from EMI, and the EU brought employees from BP and Exxon.
“These findings tell us that the dynamics within these spaces remain fundamentally colonial. It is not surprising that most of the companies influencing these negotiations come from the Global North. In recent years, COPs have become an avenue for many companies to greenwash,” Caroline Muturi from IBON Africa, an NGO, said in a news release.
The researchers believe that their estimate is likely to be conservative. KBPO only counts delegates who openly disclose their connections to fossil fuel interests, and not those who access the talks using a different professional affiliation. KBPO also relied solely on public sources such as company websites, news coverage or databases.
The number of fossil fuel representatives at UN climate negotiations has been increasing over time, although the industry has been present since its inception. These findings build on calls in recent years to protect the UN climate negotiations by establishing clear conflict of interest policies and accountability measures, the researchers argued.
This year, for the first time, thanks to sustained pressure from civil society, COP28 attendees have been required to disclose who they represent, exposing many lobbyists who would likely have attended previous COPs incognito. Last year, KBPO’s analysis showed that at least 636 fossil fuel lobbyists had access to the COP27.
“Fossil fuel lobbyists and leaders are actively deploying deceptive tactics to mislead the public and policymakers, sow doubt about climate science, and obstruct critical climate action. Their agenda is crystal clear: safeguarding their profits at the expense of a livable future for all,” Kathy Mulvey, a campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a news release.
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